The subject-centered classroom

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The subject-centered classroom is characterized by the fact that the third thing has a presence so real, so vivid, so vocal, that it can hold teacher and students alike accountable for what they say and do. In such a classroom there are no inert facts. The great thing is so alive that teacher can turn to student or student to teacher … the power of a subject that transcends our self-absorption and refuses to be reduced to our claims about it.

I can illustrate this essential idea with a humble, even humiliating, example. I am thinking of an awkward moment that I – and perhaps you – have known, the moment when I make an assertion about the subject, and a student catches me contradicting something I said earlier or something from the text or something the student knows independently of the text or me …

But in a subject-centered classroom, gathered around a great thing, getting caught in a contradiction can signify success: now I know that the great thing has such a vivid presence among us that any student who pays attention to it can check and correct me … It is a moment not for embarassment but for celebrating good teaching, teaching that gives the subject – and the students – lives of their own.

Parker J. Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998), 117-18.

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